Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Hear Me Roar

I became a feminist at BYU.

I know "BYU feminist" sounds like an oxymoron, but at that time there was quite a group in the English department. I attended BYU during a short-lived golden age for feminism. Many of my professors openly proclaimed themselves feminists, and those who didn't accepted feminism as a viable world view rather than a silly notion embraced only by lesbians and women too ugly to ever hope to find a man. I had never considered which side of the feminist fence I embraced--in truth, I had never really known what a feminist was before my BYU education. Many of my respectable and admirable professors helped awaken my world views on status and value of women in a still-very-patriarchal Utah society. Feminism wasn't just some quirky idea of a woman who no longer wished to wear a bra. Throughout history, mysogynist* attitudes in our society had created gender inequality. I wanted to help bridge the gender gap. I wanted to help make a change.

When I was approaching graduation, six well-known scholars were excommunicated from the church for publicly pronouncing their secular views on Mormonism. In addition to the six, several professors at BYU were disciplined for spouting their feminist rhetoric to the young and impressionable in their classes. At least three English professors were asked to leave BYU. After the massive house-cleaning, the atmosphere of the English department changed. Professors were extremely careful with their words. The passion, the excitement, the fire had dimmed.

After I graduated, my fire began to dim as well. I was no longer associating with fellow students who had similar opinions, hopes, dreams, desires. I was married to a man who scoffed at the thought that there could be such a thing as a feminist. I always felt like he considered my feminism a silly phase. Instead of fighting to keep my feminist views, I found it easier to comply with the role my society expected of me. And while I would never consider my decision to become a stay-at-home mom a mistake, I do consider my willingness to let go of my feminist views a weak reaction to a difficult situation.

For a long time I felt like I had been silenced. Like I didn't have a voice. I knew had a voice once--back in my BYU days. I longed to find that voice again.

After my marriage failed, I decided I should find out who I really was--deep down in the core of Shannon. I wanted to be true to myself. I knew the failure of my marriage had hinged on my failure to understand myself properly and my subsequent inability to go on living as someone I wasn't. I'm not going to delve into my road of self-discovery here, but I will say that little by little I have regained some of that spark I had back in the college days. And these days I can embrace that side of myself because I chose a husband who embraces it in me.

Which brings us to yesterday.

Yesterday I voted for Hillary Clinton. Most Utahns would consider my vote wasted (Clinton didn't have even a tiny sliver of hope to get Utah's democrat delegates). I endured jokes in the faculty room--"You're going to vote for Monica Lewinsky's ex-boyfriend's wife????" I overheard my daughter's friend tell her, "I heard that someone asked Hillary what one plus one is and she said, 'Ummmmmm'." I have felt the need to explain why I'm voting for Clinton, as if it is a huge mystery just begging to be solved. (Why is it that everyone calls her "Hillary" anyway? You never hear anyone calling Obama "Barack" or McCain "John". It irks me.)

And then today, I read this article by Robin Morgan. It really struck a chord with me. Why should I feel apologetic for supporting a highly qualified candidate? Why should others feel the need to casually dismiss Clinton because she's a woman? Worse, why do people make condescending remarks about her gender--our society would never stand for condescending remarks about Obama's skin color.

I have been reminded there is no shame in being a feminist. There is no shame in supporting the best candidate. There is no shame in standing up for the dignity of my gender. In fact, the opposite is true. It is shameful to use Clinton's gender as a reason to either reject or support her. I am proud to support Hillary Clinton in her quest to become a candidate for president based on her experience, her intelligence, and her stance on the issues. And I refuse to apologize for my support.

*A funny aside--I used the word "misogyny" in my 9th grade language arts class yesterday during our discussion of Romeo and Juliet, and there was a collective gasp. They thought I had said a bad word, apparently. Ha!


Tiffany said...

Amen, Shannon! And Bravo! I'm sick of feminist views being thought of as silly, extreme, or un...Mormon? I also can't believe the passionate hatred that Hillary Clinton exudes. I mean, people here HATE her. I have started saying, "Why?" to people who express it. I want to know what is at the root at their hatred. I have yet to have anybody give me an intelligent, issue-based response. It's scary and it's wrong.

I just adore you, Shannon, and I'm grateful that you have (and share) such a powerful voice. (Your daughters will be grateful, too!) And I also appreciate both of our husbands, who understand that powerful, intelligent women are not a threat to their existence or manhood.

JayVee said...

That was a great article Shan - both yours and the one you linked. I am so proud of you for finding your voice and for standing up for what you believe in. I am glad that you found someone who loves you without wanting to change you. It is scary, sad and alarming that it is still socially acceptable to discriminate against and oppress women. I was flying back from DC last night and I was thinking that I need to start a women's group dedicated to supporting and inspiring each other despite what our individual goals and values are. A lot of working moms look down on stay-at-home moms and vice versa. This has to change, women need each other and we still have a long way to go to get to true equality. I think you should help me develop a mission statement and business plan - I think Utah needs a group like this too! :) What do you think?

Clark said...

A great entry Shannon. In answer to your question about why everyone refers to Senator Clinton by her first name, I believe the answer is because she has purposefully branded herself that way. See her website at, which shows her logo "Hillary for President," used in ads, signs, and bumper stickers. See also links there to "Hillary," "Hillary's Story," "Team Hillary," "Hillary Hub," etc.

Shannon said...

Yeah, Clark, I know she has dubbed herself Hillary, but it still bugs me. I think going by her first name is an open invitation for people to disregard her as a viable candidate. If she had asked me, I would have recommended Rodham-Clinton (assuming she is trying to differentiate between herself and her husband).

But she didn't ask me.

And yes, Jeri, I agree that women sometimes perpetuate gender inequality by their own silly, catty behavior. I'd love to hear what you have in mind for your group.

An thanks, Tiffany, for your kind words. I really admire you!